Student-led Acne Education Project clears stigma and empowers youth

An initiative started by UBC students is aiming to clear up the stigma of acne.

The Acne Education Project is a collaborative initiative between undergraduate and medical students at UBC. Founded in late 2020, they aim to raise awareness about the mental health impacts of acne and support evidence-based workshops to educate youth in “a fun and engaging way,” according to its website.

Vincent Wan, the co-founder and president of the Acne Education Project and a doctor of medicine candidate at UBC, said he and his co-founders initiated the project to increase education about the physical and psychological aspects of acne vulgaris.

The project started out as an “evidence-based workshop” targeted at elementary school classes, said Wan. After launching, the Acne Education Project garnered the attention of a local dermatology resident, who connected the project leaders with three local Canadian dermatologists who reviewed their presentation.

This year, the Acne Education Project delivers free educational presentations to elementary and middle schools from grades five to eight across BC.

“We’ve been able to present to over 40 different schools so far,” Wan said.

The project preaches three aspects within its presentation: prevention, management and reaching out.

According to Wan, developing a skin care routine can help in the prevention of inflammatory, comedonal and nodulocystic acne.

“Having a good and consistent skincare routine can help prevent or combat these [types of acne],” he said, “but it’s important to be gentle.”

He also mentioned balance. “Exercising, having good hygiene, changing masks and pillowcases. These are all different things we can touch on in terms of prevention.”

When discussing acne management, Wan said many over-the-counter options are available. He warned about the many but perhaps less effective alternatives available in pharmacies.

“When I was in high school, I was so desperate to find something that worked,” he said. “I put my own earnings into buying products that I thought would help. In the long run, I ended up wasting a lot of money to try and fix my skin.”

Wan said the severity of acne can be subjective, but speaking to a doctor is important if it’s affecting daily life.

A big part of the project is also addressing the negative stigma surrounding acne. A 2020 meta-analysis from the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology found there to be a “significant association of acne vulgaris with depression.”

Up to 90 per cent of students will experience acne at some point in their lives,” Wan said. “Yet we don’t really talk about it, ever. For any dermatological condition, there’s a stigma that it could be infectious or that someone with acne is dirty.”

The work of the Acne Education Project is gaining traction, with members gaining recognition from the Canadian Dermatology Association. The project won the Public Education Award presented by the association in late July of this year.

“We really hope to use this recognition to spearhead our next steps,” Wan said. He said the Acne Education Project is trying to expand across rural BC. Members of the project are currently looking at grants to expand its operations.

“Eventually we want to reach a stage where we can get in touch with the Minister of Education, possibly integrating a little bit of acne education in the elementary school-level.”